The Climate Movement Marches On

Elizabeth Kolbert previews NYC’s climate march this Sunday:

For next year’s meeting in Paris to produce an agreement that’s meaningful, that agreement is going to have to somehow yield truly significant emissions reductions, and do so quickly. After twenty-two years of failed attempts, it’s hard to be optimistic about this prospect.

But for this very reason, you’ve got to give those who are planning to march on Sunday that much more credit for trying. (It seems that the Secretary-General himself will also attend the march.) There’s a lot of inertia in the climate system, and whatever we do to it now, our descendants are going to have to live with the results for a long, long time. Already, the effects of climate change are painfully apparent—in the shrinking Arctic ice cap, in the death of millions of acres of forest in the Western U.S., in more severe downpours and flooding in the Northeast, and, quite possibly, in the current California drought. As Governor Jay Inslee, of Washington, recently summed up the situation, “We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it.”

Bill McKibben defended the march against naysayers during his guest-blogging stint:

I’ve come to believe a few basic things.

One, we have long known much that we need to do to start addressing the issue (job one is to put a serious price on carbon, and stop letting Exxon use the atmosphere as a free sewer). Two, we won’t do these things as long as the power of the fossil fuel companies remains so powerful – we will continue to move in the direction of renewable energy because it makes sense, but we will do so too slowly to make a dent in climate change. Three, the power of the fossil fuel companies is a function of their money, which buys more influence than their arguments deserve; in fact, scientists long ago won the argument on climate change, they’ve just lost the fight. Four, the only thing that can match the power of that money is the power of movements. They’re hard and slow work to build, but when they reach a certain point they can change the zeitgeist, and suddenly segregation is obviously disgusting, gay marriage is obviously common sense, and so on.

I’m not certain we’ll get to that point – movements don’t always work. But I am certainthat we won’t get there without one. And I’m certain too that even if we knew the odds were low we should march. Part of it is simply to bear witness, to say: when scientists issued their warnings, some portion of our species paid attention.